27 November 2014

Environment Commissioner warns of impact from rising seas

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, has warned that flooding and erosion from rising sea levels will have a large impact on many New Zealanders in their lifetimes. 

Today the Commissioner released a report that explains the science of sea level rise, one of the major consequences of climate change. A second report, due next year, will show which towns and cities are most vulnerable. It will also assess the risk to roads, buildings, stormwater systems and other infrastructure in those areas. 

There are three processes that are causing the sea to rise. The first is the water in the sea expanding as it gets warmer. The second is glaciers melting – most of the mountain glaciers around the world are retreating. The third is the loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica. 

Sea levels have risen by about 20 centimetres over the last hundred years. In the report, the Commissioner warns a rise of a further 30 centimetres or so by 2050 is now inevitable. 

“A rise of 30 cm may not sound much, but its impact will be very costly for many landowners,” said Dr Wright. “Damaging coastal floods will become increasingly frequent. The insurance industry is becoming aware of, and responding to, the increased flooding risk. Some councils and communities have already started to face hard questions.” 

Action taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to avoid larger rises beyond 2050. 

“A rising sea will be with us for a long time to come – one way or another we will have to adapt,” said Dr Wright. “But how high and how fast the water rises will be influenced by the speed at which the world including New Zealand reduces greenhouse gas emissions.” 

“Scientists have been studying this for over a hundred years, and the body of evidence is now irrefutable. The climate is changing and causing the sea to rise.”

A copy of the report, entitled Changing climate and rising seas: Understanding the science, is available here. Click here to view a set of frequently asked questions.



For more information please contact:

Dan Ormond

027 251 9849